This email came in response to last week’s article, Sustainable Biofuel: Here And In The US where we looked at Peter Edwards’ Eco Living Centre in Melbourne and a new certification measuring individual biofuels’ sustainability.
The article Mary Jane recommends appears on US progressive think tank, The Rockridge Institute’s website and makes these points:
“On the surface, biofuels present the ideal solution to this problem. We can grow them in large amounts and the carbon that is released by burning them is equal to the amount they breathe in as they grow. This simple mental accounting is very appealing, but woefully inaccurate for describing what is really going on.”
“The real problem is that the way we use energy is out of balance with natural processes, driving us away from the equilibrium necessary for our communities to survive.”
“We need to find livable solutions to this problem. A glance at biofuels in the context of livability shows how woefully inadequate they are for solving it. In truth, they will make things worse. The biofuels hoax, as ecologist Eric Holt-Giménez calls it, is based on several misunderstandings that arise in the language of the energy debate.”
“Large-scale agricultural practices deplete soils, contaminate water supplies, and are vulnerable to pests and disease when single crops (monocultures) are grown in large fields. The widespread use of pesticides – manufactured using fossil fuels – is also contributing to the cancer epidemic wreaking havoc on our communities. Current agricultural practices also require non-renewable resources and utilize vast distribution networks that are very high in resource demand – including the need for lots of energy.”
“There is considerable emphasis on genetically engineering plants to be grown as fuel sources. These plants – including corn, palm trees, switch grass, and algae – are not natural if they are the product of intentional design by genetic engineering.
By tampering with plant DNA, we run the risk of getting further out of balance, possibly introducing new and unexpected harms like invasive species that take over croplands and natural ecosystems.”
Unfortunately the writers of the article neglect to mention the high yielding and usually non genetically modified Jatropha which is grown extensively in India and is about to be adopted in Haiti as their main source of biofuel plant.
Here’s the Rockridge Institute’s (edited down) solution:
The biofuels debate has been centered on the wrong question. The problem is not simply the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If we address the “carbon problem” without recognizing the “livability problem” our solutions will fail. This is the challenge. We have to look at these problems holistically to see the impacts of our choices.
Addressing the climate crisis requires us to do a lot more than change from fossil fuels to plant-based fuels. Global warming is a problem because the way we live is out of sync with nature. The solution is to rethink how we relate to our natural environment. This is where livability is paramount. We need to be thinking about family farms, not factory farms. In the family farm frame, people are interacting with the earth to produce food. The factory farm frame has people interacting with the earth to produce money.
It is not even clear whether biofuels can be part of the solution at all. The family farm that supports life is inherently local and small. Introduction of an economic incentive to grow fuel crops will drive local farmers to grow ever larger biofuel crops, resulting in the pattern that is occurring now.
We can solve the “livability problem” by looking for ways to promote life. The carbon dioxide problem will get fixed along the way.
There’s some food for thought!